By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — Father Edward Catich, a world-renowned artist and calligrapher, died in 1979, but Paul Herrera is among those trying to make sure the priest’s legacy lives on.
That’s why Herrera — a former pupil, colleague and friend of the late professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport — recently restored slate inscriptions Fr. Catich created for Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. Last week, Herrera wrapped up about five weeks worth of touch-ups on two 18-foot-tall pieces of art fitted into Regina’s exterior. After years of exposure to the sun and harsh weather, the images of angels playing instruments and the Queen of Heaven got new paint, and edges of the slates were resealed.
“This really makes me feel good. Fr. Catich’s work is so important,” said the member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf.
Born in 1906, Fr. Catich earned recognition as a stonecutter, calligrapher, architectural consultant, photographer, musician, teacher, author and historian. He designed several calligraphic typefaces, and his lettering work in stone has been exhibited throughout the United States.
Fr. Catich also founded the art department at St. Ambrose, the school Herrera graduated from in 1974. In the 1970s the two artists taught calligraphy and watercolor at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery, and they traveled the country together for calligraphy workshops.
“I wanted to do the same things he did,” Herrera said. A no-nonsense man who valued discipline, the priest was hard to keep up with, he added.
Herrera has restored Fr. Catich’s artwork before. In 1995, while researching the artist in Iowa City, he noticed the slates at Regina could use a facelift and offered to help. Nearly 17 years later, on the recommendation of staff at St. Ambrose, Regina invited Herrera to do the job again. Retired from the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, he began driving 65 miles from his home in Milan, Ill., most weekdays to lend his services.
“The fact that we were able to get someone who worked with Fr. Catich and worked with our pieces before was a blessing,” said Alan Opheim, Regina’s director of finance and operations.
Restoration costs total a little less than $6,000, Opheim said.
Fr. Catich and three apprentices spent months creating the artwork for Regina in 1959, Herrera said. In addition to the exterior images on 2-inch-thick slate that Herrera restored, Fr. Catich designed stained-glass windows and Stations of the Cross in Regina’s chapel.
Herrera has been researching Fr. Catich’s work for a biography the retiree is writing of the priest. The effort reflects the spirit of the Art Legacy League, a group consisting mostly of several former students of Fr. Catich who are working to preserve the late artist’s memory.
“He’s internationally famous, but not many people know about him around here,” said Katie Kiley, a Davenport artist and former classmate of Herrera. Fr. Catich was a true genius who “loved his students almost like a mother hen. We’re very passionate about getting his name back in people’s minds.”